I can see why recently so many blogs are pointing to Borderland. Doug's thoughts make for compelling reading and gets my brain asking as many questions as there are answers to be found. It's an uncomfortable but necessary feeling to be seeking answers that eighteen years of teaching don't adequately provide for. I've been reading his post Naming The Literate which deals with the issue of standardised testing and flows over into a stack of other related areas. Doug points out at the start of the post that literacy is a point of view issue:
Any interpretive act could count as reading. We can read the weather, read a river, read a face, or read a room full of people. Since interpretations of the same phenomenon can vary, we know that a range of meanings for any text is possible depending on a person’s point of view.
He talks about the US government's official definition of literacy and how that paints a presumed picture of how the average American utilises their literacy - a picture that would be at odds with many of its own citizens' reality. What would the Australia Federal Government's definition of literacy tell me about their view of average Australians? Standardised testing support is on the current agenda and it seems to be driving a lot of education funding and focus. The media here give the statistics a lot of credibility, either to praise programs and decisions if they are favourable or to indulge in a bit of criticism of the teaching profession if the results are perceived to have fallen below standards.
Doug does a much better job of explaining the pitfalls of this narrow focussed view of literacy than I can so, go on, read his post in full. And while you're at it, check his Evaluating Truth Claims post. With my frustrations this year when working with my students in any form of research where the prevailing attitude is, "If it's on the internet, it must be true," this has helped crystallise some strategies for the start of the upcoming school year.
Graham, maybe we can begin to define some other (more valid) standard of measure than standardized testing data for the praise and criticism the politicians want to heap on us. We probably deserve both, but when it’s only tied to test results then neither praise nor criticism has any meaning.
Thanks for the comment. It’s exciting to be connecting with Australian teachers.